Race the Darkness (Fatal Dreams Book 1)(9)

By: Abbie Roads

She unlocked the door and stepped aside. “Be careful, Sire.”

Dim silver light from the open doorway slashed across the dark room, illuminating a body in the middle of the floor. The naked female, so devoid of muscle she qualified as a skeleton, had a vile ring of blood surrounding her, seeping from a gash in her side.

His lungs contracted, expelling the air out of him. “What have you done?” he snapped at the Crazy One and realized two seconds too late he’d broken character.

You’re not King. You tricked me.

The woman on the floor needed an ambulance and mostly likely an extended hospital stay—assuming she was even alive. But the Crazy One still had those scissors in her hand. He wouldn’t be helping anyone if she buried them in his spine. He put himself between the woman on the floor and the Crazy One.

“I told you.” A croaky voice came from the shadows and muted planes of space the light didn’t reach. “I told you her protector would come.” Another skeletal body crawled into the light, face ravaged by torment and time, its attention focused on the Crazy One’s scissors.

Something familiar plucked at Xander’s memory, just beyond the reach of consciousness. Damn.

The Crazy One dropped the scissors. She stood, mouth hanging open, her flat slug of a tongue resting on her bottom lip. She backed away, one step at a time. I must finish. I must finish. She turned and ran down the hallway, each footstep reverberating through the floor.

“Take her. Protect her. Heal her. Save her from Queen.” The malnourished figure crawling on the floor spoke again, urgency riding each of her words.

Save her from Queen. Recognition slammed into him, knocking him to his knees.

…and no one other than Queen will ever remember we existed. Queen—not a typical name.

“Fuck me.” A burr gouged into his heart. The woman lying on the floor was the woman. The one inside his head. She wasn’t a figment of a fucked mind. She was naked and emaciated and—oh, Christ—looked like a corpse.

Guilt choked in his throat—a lump too big to swallow, too awful to taste. She’d tried to tell him she was suffering and needed help. What had he done? Buried her words under a gallon of liquor and a barrel of self-pity. All those nights when he’d felt so restless, if he’d just gotten in his truck, would he have driven here? Found her before it was too late?

The woman’s cheekbones jutted so sharply they nearly cut through the skin. Tufts of blond hair grew in patches along her hairline. And yet, superimposed over what his eyes took in, his mind filled in the gaps, added flesh to her cheeks, fullness to her eyes, and pale-blond hair to her head. Somehow, he saw beyond what lay before him to what might have been. She would’ve been beautiful. Radiant in an angelic way words couldn’t adequately describe.

“Oh, God.” He was the worst sort of asshole. Had always been a selfish bastard, owned that about himself, but this—this was a low he’d never be able to crawl out of. He couldn’t just rationalize away his lack of action all this time.

The spot where his heart should be throbbed. His hand shook like someone coming off the sauce as he reached for her, touching her neck, feeling for a pulse, though he knew there was no way she could be alive.

Her skin nearly froze his fingers. Death did that to a person, stole their warmth along with their life. Her eyelids fluttered, stuttered, and opened, locking directly on him, pinning him with her gaze.

Logical thought tumbled out of his head, splashing onto the floor. His body went into suspended animation mode.

She swallowed, wincing as if the action hurt. “Xander?”

Every word in his vocabulary vanished behind a nearly impenetrable wall of shock and disbelief.

“Is it really you?” Her words were barely a breath of sound. “Or am I dreaming?”

He understood what she was saying, he just couldn’t pluck any response out of the emptiness in his mind.

Her face scrunched up, and a soft, dry sob hacked in her throat. “You’re just a dream. Why can’t I just die?”

Seeing her hurting, seeing her pain, finally dissolved his mental paralysis. “Oh, God. I’m here.” He gripped her face in one hand. Her expression relaxed as if his touch eased her. “I’m real. You’re safe.” He swiped his thumb over her chin, felt it tremble at his touch.

Sorrow faded from her eyes, but other emotions filled the void—more emotions than he knew what to do with. He didn’t need to be Freud to see the adoration and the hero worship. “Don’t look at me like that. I’m not the good guy here.” His tone was overflowing with self-loathing and guilt for not finding her years ago. “You know my name, but I don’t know yours.”